Xbox Revisited: Develop Your Successful Game Plan

Microsoft XBOX Game

Develop Your Successful Game Plan

Robbie Bach’s book, Xbox Revisited: A Game Plan for Corporate and Civic Renewal, uniquely shares the stories behind the creation of the Xbox, the business strategy blueprints for others to follow, and Robbie’s personal philosophy of civic renewal.

For twenty-two years, Robbie Bach worked at Microsoft in various marketing, management and leadership roles. As Chief Xbox Officer, Robbie led the launch of Xbox. He retired from Microsoft in 2010 and now serves on charitable boards while writing articles on various civic issues.

I recently asked Robbie to reflect back on his many years at Microsoft. What he learned provides lessons for us all.


“Without principles, a team has no central rudder to keep it on course.” -Robbie Bach


Hitting Rock Bottom

Robbie, the book is a wonderful read as both the inside story of the Xbox creation and then also about your personal goals in what you call your Act 2. As I reflect back on the entire book, though, one email you included in it sticks with me. It was your “rock bottom” email when you tried to resign from Xbox. Tell us more about that.

The period leading up to the Xbox launch was very challenging on many fronts. I certainly was struggling to provide the right type of leadership; the team was like the United Nations with many differing points of view on important topics, and the mountain in front of us was a difficult climb under any circumstances. Ultimately, however, none of that led to me submitting my resignation. The real issue was the impact work was having on my personal life and my inability to manage that situation. It was just another instance of me being unprepared for the challenges presented by the Xbox project, but this one was very personal and cut to the core of my beliefs. I’m a “family first” guy, and when I realized I wasn’t living up to that, I knew something needed to change.


The Importance of Accountability and Transparency

What strikes me about this email was this: no excuses, no blaming, just pure personal accountability. You outline what you think is needed and then what you don’t feel you can do. Would other executives be served by being this transparent or did it work uniquely within the Microsoft culture?

E3 XBox Press Briefing Robbie Bach 17 MS_05_2004I am a believer in transparency – it is very difficult to solve problems when you obfuscate the situation with a fog filled with excuses. So I think this is an important skill for all leaders – in business, non-profits, or government. With that said, how you approach transparency and full disclosure absolutely will (and should) vary depending on the situation, the organizational culture, and the personalities involved. I clearly trusted my boss, Rick Belluzzo, to manage this situation appropriately, and he was remarkably helpful during a difficult time. In other circumstances, I might have used a different approach to declare the issues, and I might have pursued the discussion through other channels. Bottom line: being honest with yourself and open to your manager and your team is an important skill to master. Done well, it can fundamentally change the dynamics and attitude of a team in a very positive way.


“If you don’t define your purpose, you don’t know what you’re doing or why.” -Robbie Bach


Developing a Strategic Framework

30 Leadership Lessons from my Wife

Leadership Lessons from My Wife
This is a guest post by friend and mentor Bruce Rhoades, who retired after having run several companies. He often helps me with strategy. I am delighted that he is a regular contributor.

Lessons Are All Around Us

Leadership lessons are all around us if we look for them. In my case, my wife is one who has shown me a lot—by simply managing her own life!

Over the years, I have observed my wife balance many competing priorities. She has managed a career with her own business, raised our children, developed friendships and run a household all while being a great wife and partner. As we progress through life together, I have noticed leadership traits that she naturally employs as an effective, successful businesswoman, mother, friend and wife.

Sometimes we get very theoretical or philosophical in describing leadership talent. We go to seminars, read books or take courses, but I have found some of the most effective lessons are very practical and are demonstrated through the actions of those around us. My wife doesn’t talk about or preach leadership—she just naturally has the qualities. It just took me a while to catch on…

Here is a brief list of the effective leadership lessons that I have observed from her in action:

15 Bad Habits that Inhibit Brand Building

New Brand Leadership

Managing A Global Brand

Building a global brand today is different than it was only a few years ago. Globalization, localization and personalization are forces that impact how to best manage a global brand. In Larry Light and Joan Kiddon’s new book, New Brand Leadership: Managing at the Intersection of Globalization, Localization and Personalization, the authors share their over 50 years of experience in building the world’s largest brands. From forming a brand vision to measuring its performance, they share a framework for developing and executing a global brand strategy.

Recently, I had the opportunity to talk with Larry Light about his new work. Larry is the CEO of Arcature LLC. He was a senior executive and board member at BBDO and President of the international division of Ted Bates. He was Global CMO of McDonald’s from 2002 to 2005. More recently, Light was the Global Chief Brands Officer of IHG.


“Low price and best value are not synonymous.”


Bad Habits That Inhibit Brand Building

Would you share the bad habits that inhibit brand building? I found myself nodding and think readers would find these compelling.New Brand Leadership

We identified 15 bad habits that impede organizations from building brands, regardless of industry, category, and geography. These habits are not stand-alone forces: there are two underlying connections among these, and these are enterprise culture and leadership. First, culture matters. When there is a conflict between culture and strategy, culture wins. Culture fights change. Culture fights for the status quo. Culture nurtures complacency. Second, brand leadership is different from brand management. Brand management is taught in business schools. Effective brand leadership is different. Brand management is about the execution of specific brand-building actions. Brand leadership is different. It is about getting the right results through the efforts of others. It is about educating, inspiring, influencing and evaluating. Effective leaders create results by getting others to do the right things to produce the right results. Effective brand leadership is top down. For example, none of the work we did at McDonald’s could have happened without the leadership of Jim Cantalupo and Charlie Bell. Nissan needed Carlos Ghosn. IBM needed Lou Gerstner. Popeye’s needs Cheryl Bachelder.


“Brand leadership is different from brand management.” -Larry Light


15 Bad Branding Habits

  1. Complacency
  2. Change for the Sake of Change
  3. Financial Engineering as a Growth Strategy
  4. Cost-Managing the Way to Profitable Growth
  5. Focusing on Customers You Do Not Have at the Expense of Customers You Do Have
  6. Failing to Keep the Brand Relevant
  7. Price Segmentation Instead of Market Segmentation
  8. Thinking the Lowest Price Is the Same as the Best Value
  9. Failing to Instill a Quality Mind-Set
  10. Silo Mentality
  11. Focusing on the Short-Term Rather Than Creating a Short-Term/Long-Term Strategy
  12. Not Sharing Across Functions, Geographies, and Brands
  13. Believing the Regions Are Not as Sophisticated as the Center
  14. Believing That Brand Management Is All About Marketing Communication
  15. Allowing Data to Decide


The Most Insidious Bad Brand Building Habit

What’s the most common bad habit you have witnessed?

One that is becoming increasingly visible and insidious is the desire to satisfy the demands of Wall Street over satisfying the demands of customers. Ultimately, the sustainable source of cash flow comes from customers exchanging money for your offer. Financial engineering is not the basis for enduring profitable growth. Managing money is not the same as managing brands. Stock buybacks and increased dividends indicate that a company believes that investing in product and service development, innovations and brand-building will not yield satisfactory returns to shareholders. So, they just give cash back to shareholders and let them decide where to invest.


“To grow trust, we need to grow quality.”


The Evolution of Global Marketing

4 Secrets of Passionate Organizations

Performance Breakthrough

How to Create Performance Breakthroughs


How can your team reach its potential?

What if you could add a dose of passion to every member of your team?

How do you improve productivity and morale?

In his new book, Performance Breakthrough: The FOUR Secrets of Passionate Organizations, Mike Goldman reveals the four secrets for creating a more passionate organization. With 25 years of experience coaching organizations of all sizes, Mike Goldman has seen what works and what doesn’t. I recently spoke with Mike about how to create performance breakthroughs.


“The first step to a performance breakthrough is to accept that we are all different.”


Effective Techniques for Understanding

To treat others the way they want to be treated, we need to understand them. What techniques do you recommend to have someone listen and really understand someone in order to make secret one work?

I would recommend using three different techniques: asking, observing and assessing.



Ask- Meet one-on-one with each team member to ask him or her about their values, motivations, and learning styles. Don’t come right out and ask, “What motivates you?” The answer you get won’t be very helpful since, chances are, your team member will just tell you what they think you’ll want to hear. You want to ask behavioral interviewing type questions like:

Think back to a time when you were incredibly motivated at work. What happened right before to make you feel that way?

Think of a time when you had to learn something new, and it just “clicked” for you. What method of learning did you use?



Observe – Watch the individuals on your team during meetings, high-stress situations, and social situations and take note of their styles and reactions. Do they take the lead in meetings, or do they follow? Are they agreeable, or do they play devil’s advocate? Do they thrive under pressure, or wilt?



Assess – Conduct behavioral and personality assessments: There are many good behavioral and personality assessments on the market, such as Innermetrix®, Profiles International®, DiSC®, etc. These assessments are typically very accurate and may give you and your employees important insight on their styles, talents, values, and motivations.


“Giving ownership enables people to reach their true potential.”



How to Lead Like a Navy SEAL

How to Lead Like a Navy SEAL


When you read those two words, what comes to mind?

Words like: tough, decisive, driven, fearless, disciplined?

What can leaders learn from the SEALS?


Under incredible conditions, Navy SEALS prove their worth by getting the job done. When I meet a SEAL, I am intrigued because I know this is someone who is proven. Recently, when I had the opportunity to interview Brian “Iron Ed” Hiner, about his new book, First, Fast, Fearless: How to Lead Like a Navy SEAL, I knew I would walk away with many lessons I could apply in business and in life.


“When leadership is right, you really don’t see it any more.” -Ed Hiner



Becoming a NAVY SEAL means you have overcome all odds. What can corporate leaders learn from the selection process in terms of hiring and recruiting the very best team possible?

Navy Seal Ed HinerWe have identified four major traits that we look for in a perspective SEAL candidate: physical courage, moral courage, problem solving, and what I call “teamability.” Physical courage is obvious, but moral courage does not rank far behind because we are an organization that relies heavily on trust and for our people to do the right thing for our country.

We also want SEALs to be problem solvers who thrive in what we call VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity), an environment often referred to as the “fog of war.” In our Gallop polling, we discovered that chess players are almost four times more likely than non-chess players to successfully make it through Navy SEAL training; chess players are problem solvers, and the board is VUCA writ small.

The last trait that I call “teamability” is a person’s ability to lead and be led, who can move from team to team seamlessly.


The 4 Must-Have Traits of a SEAL

1: Physical courage.

2: Moral courage.

3: Problem solving.

4: Teamability.


The takeaway of this is that hiring and recruiting needs be very deliberate. Organizations that understand the critical traits they need in their employees, and actively recruit for these traits, will be more successful down the road. Obviously all organizations look for skills and experience, but oftentimes they overlook the fundamental traits they actually need to be the elite organization that they wish to be.


“Leadership is something you do with people, not to them.” -Ed Hiner



Could you cover teamability a little more and what that means? What methods do you employ to get people to put “mission before me.”

Teamability requires that leaders and team members put mission and team before their own personal interests. When people know that leaders are selflessly making decisions for the team to succeed, and protecting their people along the way, it sets the conditions for teamability. From the beginning of SEALs training we set conditions to reinforce this concept.

In some ways it’s like we turn the pyramid upside down and take care of the broader team mission first and work our way down to the individual. For example, after we finish a mission, we take care of the teams’ common gear first. Then we all split off to our smaller teams and take care of that gear and issues until we get to the individual. This applies to everyone on the team, rank doesn’t matter; the motto is mission before me. This applies everywhere in the SEAL Teams. During staff meetings SEAL Team issues get addressed first, then the smaller Task Unit issues and so forth. It’s a practiced ritual that develops teamability and mission focus. As for the leaders of team, the rank of importance is the Mission, the men and then me. When it’s time to shower and eat, leaders eat last.

When organizations depend on teamwork it’s critical for them to reward the teams that exhibit this trait. In the SEAL Teams your performance review is heavily skewed toward your teamability; we don’t just give it lip service. We reward the traits that we want, to be the elite organization that we need to be. It’s very easy to fall into the trap of just rewarding individual performance at the expense of critical traits that you need for overall mission success.


“Servant leadership means that the team is not about you.” -Ed Hiner



You say, “The biggest enemy of humility is our own ego, which is molded by our fears.” Talk about that interplay between fear and ego.IMG_0089

We are an organization of “Alpha males” and high performers, and it’s easy for individuals in any organization with high performers to fall in love with their own ideas and abilities. Elite teams perform at their best when their leaders are humble. It’s an outward indicator that the leader is willing not to fall in love with his or her own ideas but is instead willing to find the best direction for the mission and the team. When leaders are humble and act selflessly it builds trust, and trust is the invisible thread that holds all elite teams together. When this invisible thread is broken and leaders act in their own self-interest, and don’t engage the skills and talents of the team, results will suffer.

We all have fears, and those fears can contribute to shaping our personalities: fear of failure, not being intelligent, shame, etc. Humility is the antidote to those fears. Elite leaders are not worried about being right; they are focused on the cause-and-effect relationship to get results and accomplish the mission.

I’m not saying that people should completely get rid of their egos so that they dance naked in the halls; I’m saying divorce your ego, yet stay friends. Don’t let your ego run your life. As the saying goes, “Humble people don’t think less of themselves, they think of themselves less.”


“Be the cause, not the effect.” -Ed Hiner


What qualities do you first notice when someone is leading with humility and acting as a servant leader?